Steelcitygrit [in exile]

Ruminating on all things Canadian and political.


Sunday, April 30, 2006

A Call for Greater Content from Leadership Candidates

While the leadership field, despite media accounts, is more than well-stocked as far as talent and intelligence goes, there remains too little in the way of policy prescriptions. Make no mistake, this is not one of those commentaries which have sprung up that talk about it not being a race of ideas, and lacking in true renewal. That is nonsense. This is a very much idea-driven campaign. My issue is with the general availability of these discussions.

With the campaign well underway it is about time we get more than vague commitments and the like. Having said this, it is wrong to expect too detailed a platform at this point, as many elements of governance relate to the unexpected. For this reason, it is understandable to attempt to predict based on a candidates past how they would react to changing circumstances. However, with the membership sales deadline approaching relatively soon, the race needs to go beyond this. We should not have to parse speeches, and previous publications at this stage, though I would hope most would do so on top of what I'm calling for here. I am not even speaking of explicitly specific policy proposals, though obviously they would be welcome, but even a more general acknowlegement of a candidate's theoretical stance, and philosophy.

Most of the candidates' websites, which would seem a perfect outlet for this, are lacking in some level of a basic outline on where they stand on even general issues. While this varies, it is overall disappointing. While several sites have admirable policy "discussions," these go to one problem-involvement- but do little to adress the candidate's own positions. This brings us to the Scott Brison campaign site, which includes a policy section that is not overly intensive but at least covers in some detail his basic orientation to a variety of issues. This is by no means an endorsement of Scott Brison, indeed far from it (steelcitygrit has had excellent posts previously on why he is not the right candidate for the job, and I concur- see "Brison's Constructive Federalism" and "In Their Own Words: Part Two-Scott Brison."). But in reading this, it is hard to understand why this format is such a rarity. This should not be too much to expect.

While the candidates vary in their backgrounds, and some do have extensive writings, speeches, or political careers, that can be drawn upon, an outline of what distinguishes their candidacy from the more basic Liberal values that, while in most cases seeming to reflect a positive direction for the party, are not enough. Speeches are by their nature likely to be repetitive etc. We should all do our homework, as there is a wide variety of material out there to make informed decisions about the candidates, and they have outlined their positions on some issues in good detail, but a more wholehearted beginning doesn't seem to much to ask for such an important position. The website seems a good template for this.


Note: Sorry for the length, I'll try and trim them down from now on. Congrats if you made it through, though.

Friday, April 21, 2006

McGuinty and the Caledonian Occupation

Ian Urquhart responds to both the baseless/slanderous/disingenuous accusations of certain New Democrats and the machismo saddle-talk of John Tory's brood.

As I've been saying for a month, the perscription for a peaceful and constructive resolution is simple: provincial restraint and federal activism.

I'd add that I visited the Caledonian site yesterday. There is still prevailing optimism on both sides that this thing will end the way it ought to.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Iggy visits the Steel City

Ignatieff was here today for a 'get-to-know-me' session with some area Liberals. It was relatively informal, set in a neighbourhood pub. It would seem that he is hitting the circuit pretty hard with these sorts of events.

The evening started on some rocky footing. Ignatieff was held up in traffic (read: is a politician) and so arrived more than 1 1/2 hours later than he was scheduled. When he did begin with the cursory tributes, he neglected Russ Powers - the recently deposed Liberal candidate for the riding, who was present. So the tenor of the room was not a friendly one when he launched into his address.

Generally speaking, this was standard Ignatieff fare. He paid tribute to Laurier, condemned the provincial vision of Stephen Harper, emphasized that the Liberal party is not an election machine but a national institution. All stuff that you have heard before.

If there were any noteworthy comments, they came (as they often do with Michael) during question time. The discussion today was generally process over policy. Ignatieff spent some time on the past divisions in the Liberal party. I imagine this is partly spurred by the fact that the Hamilton Liberal scene has come to symbolize a party divided and defeated. He made clear that he doesn't "have a dog in any of the old fights." He was asked how he would avoid such a situation arising again. His responded that Liberals should be made to understand the cost of refusing to get along with eachother. That cost, according to Ignatieff, is a decade of PM Stephen Harper.

He was very critical of the party executive and the way that it conducted the 2006 campaign. He said that by the end, he wasn't even sure of what his party stood for. He said that he only received the completed platform a week before the end of the election, to which Russ Powers quipped "That early?" Surprisingly, he suggested that PM Harper's 5 points served as a useful template to be followed. This stood in contradiction to an earlier comment, when he criticized the 5 points as being emblematic of a "small vision".

He took questions about the party's grassroots policy process. He felt that the policies that began on kitchen tables and worked their way painstakingly through the appartus eventually ended up in the shredder. He called this a waste of members' time. This is what one would expect from someone speaking to an assortment of self-important party businesspeople and Young Liberals. Nevertheless, this did appear to be an issue he has felt strongly about since he observed the 2003 policy convention.

Finally, Ignatieff outlined his notion of how to rebuild the party in Quebec. Here, he made an interesting comment. He argued that Quebec Liberals simply need to take pride in what they are. This is something he doesn't feel has happened in some time. Quebec Liberals should be unapologetic and unwilling to compromise the basic principles of their existence. This boldness will appeal to Quebecers.

Nothing groundbreaking, but it is interesting to feel him sway a room.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

tight border better than no border

With our Public Safety minister headed south (is Stockwell Day really a cabinet minister in Canada's Federal Government, or did I dream that?), this question of border ID cards warrants some depth of thought.

Requiring all sorts of documentation to cross the border would be a sad abandonment of history. It would be indicative of a changing relationship that needs not be changed. It would just be a pain. As such, it's incumbent upon our federal and provincial governments to kick up a fuss.

Those who know me know that I'm not cut out for diplomacy - I dislike compromise because in a US-Canada context it is usually only a one-way street.

HOWEVER - if compromise we must, then tightening our border is the best route to take. We mustn't lose sight of the reality of our situation, and the alternatives we face. A change in the management of our border is moderately inevitable in the post-9/11 world. There is, however, nothing near a consensus on what shape this change should take. Two dominant schools of thought for border management reform have emerged. One prescribes a simple tightening of traditional security measures. The other is an argument for a near-obliteration of the border in an effort to establish a continental security perimeter. Both approaches have their merits and shortcomings. However, the latter proposal offers some very serious threats to Canadian policy-making autonomy on a range of issues.

Our two dominant options can be typified as a border re-emphasis approach and a border elimination approach. The former would entail a further legislating of border traffic, more requirements for citizens traveling back and forth, and a commitment of resources to developing new secure technologies at our existing border crossings. The ID card requirement falls under this category. The latter and perhaps more startling camp subscribes instead to envisioning security as a common continental initiative. This is popularly described as “Fortress North America.” The expression is both hyperbolic and sensationalist, but it serves a purpose.

The major failing of border re-emphasis is its economic fallout. We witnessed on September 11th, with the suspension of various fasttrack services, just how damaging border wait times can be for Ontarian industry. This is why any step in this direction must have built in processes by which truckers, etc. can circumvent the system.

Boder elimination, I would argue, carries far more serious complications. Any move in this direction would implicate immigration, foreign policy, and numerous other legistlative compounds. The requisite harmonization needed in various policy fields would not result from negotiation and compromise. Rather, the greater would consume the lesser. In its most abstract form, border elimination’s downfall is that it can undermine Canadian soverignty. This argument is of a clearly emotional nature. As such, it should not be taken at face value. Instead, the practical implications of a continentally constructed security network should be examined. If the 49th parallel loses its significance, than Canadian and American immigration policies would necessarily have to be brought in line to some extent. This has begun on a small scale. Closer bilateral military ties would be required. This we have avoided - but will be unable to in the future.

I hope my point has not been buried. I'm no fan of new border ID requirements. However, they would not represent a worst case scenario. These days we are certain of only one thing – our border will not survive unchanged. This is simply impractical. As such, we should dedicate much careful deliberation to the direction we wish border management to take. The continentalist deep-integration approach seeks to strip the border of its significance. In doing so, we open our country up to a litany of threats. Instead, resources and creativity should be invested in our existing border institutions. With security and economic efficiency in mind, we should reinvent our border – not tear it down. If change is necessary, the future of border management lies in reinforcement.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

A Novel Communications Approach

I won't quibble with the support that PM Harper appears to command currently. However, the positive accounts we are given of Harper require some explanation. He is lauded for his unapologetic self-confidence, drawing comparisons to Chretien, etc.

This raises a question: If Mr. Harper is as assured of his self and government as we are instructed to believe, why does he feel compelled to do this?

A scientist/author/bureaucrat, employed by Environment Canada, was instructed not to make a promotional speech about his novel. Novel.

A synopsis, from the publisher's website:

"When desperation for fresh water finally becomes so critical that anarchy erupts throughout the major cities of America, Eastland is mysteriously assigned to scout Canada. The country has long resisted opening its taps of fresh water to its neighbor and ally to the south. Eastland finds both friends and adversaries in Canada. As well, he finds the world's largest supply of fresh water.
Canada's resource causes a crisis in the American-Canadian relationship until the countries are at war..."

This is a pseudo sci-fi novel of an imagined future.

I had planned a serious post about the value of a multitude of voices in the business of governance, but I'm not sure I'd be able to take myself seriously anymore. Instead, I will suggest that if this government seeks to keep the fiction of our imaginations 'on point', then it is likely to be crushed under its own weight.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Lalonde the legend

This early in the game, we really don't know much about the respective visions of our leadership candidates. For this reason, the supporters they accrue are so compelling.

I was particularly interested to see Marc Lalonde land in the Ignatieff camp. This is a man for which I (and most Liberals, I hope) have the utmost respect. He is most famous for his closeness with Trudeau. Indeed, he caused one biographer to opine that "Marc Lalond [was] very much like Trudeau... Intelectually... so close to him that one wonders whether it is not... Lalonde who invented him." Marc Lalonde co-authored with Trudeau a seminal article on functional politics in 1964. This article, that set Trudeau's mandate in declaring that "The primacy accorded to regional interests and the absence of leadership at the central government level threatens a dislocation of the central state", was later held in triumph on the eve of the constitution's patriation.

He is among the greatest party leaders we never had. I hope dearly that he elaborates on his support of Ignatieff at some point.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Prentice Needs a Constitutional Refresher

It had appeared, over the past two weeks, that the Federal Government was reluctantly recognizing the singular role it must play in ending the Caledonian standoff. It is thus with great disapointment that I find it returning to its initial imbecilica:
Deirdre McCracken, a spokesperson for Minister of Indian Affairs Jim Prentice, said yesterday the blockade "has nothing to do with the federal government."

Section 91 of the BNA Act, 1867: is hereby declared that (notwithstanding anything in this Act) the exclusive Legislative Authority of the Parliament of Canada extends to all Matters coming within the Classes of Subjects next hereinafter enumerated; that is to say:

(24) Indians, and the lands reserved for the Indians.

But Jim Prentice is prepared for this criticism. McCracken continues:
"This isn't a lands-claim matter. The actual root of the problem is not a land claim."

That assertion took me by surprise, and I imagine it would have suprised the Six Nations protestors as well.

Ask spokeswoman Janie Jamieson why she is there:

"It is our territory," said Jamieson. "Just because it has passed title illegally throughout the years doesn't mean that it isn't ours."

That sounds like a land claim to me. But lending a moment's attention to those that have suspended their lives and abandoned all comfort for over a month is something that Jim Prentice is not willing to do. Fortunately, he doesn't have to. He doesn't even need to leave his office. He needs only ask any Indian Affairs bureaucrat why the Caledonian issue has arisen. They will tell him that the development is part of a land claims suit filed in 1995 - one that has yet met no resolution.

The Federal Government's role in this exercise is simply not open to debate.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Kennedy's Last Leadership Race

Here is a recap of coverage of Gerard Kennedy’s bid for the leadership of the Ontario Liberals. It is mostly taken from the Toronto Star. I hope this will help non-Ontarians know Kennedy better.

His Supporters:

The Star endorsed Kennedy as their ideal candidate:

“…he developed a grass-roots understanding of the problems ailing Ontario society; especially in the wake of the Tory cutbacks, which have hit the poorest hardest.

Kennedy also possesses… the vision and the charisma so essential to winning an election. He has a proven ability to attract and inspire people of differing backgrounds to a public cause.

…Publicly and privately, his opponents are badmouthing him. Primarily, they paint him as a left-of-centre liberal in a neo-conservative era.

…Kennedy will maintain the Liberal tradition of sticking to the middle while offering an alternative view on such hot-button issues as welfare reform…”
(Toronto Star Nov. 23, 1996)

Notable supporters I found mention of included Carolyn Bennett and the late great Dominic Agostino.

His Detractors:

MPP Dwight Duncan warned that Kennedy would ‘drive capital out’ of Ontario by his proposed labor policies. …The argument occurred as Kennedy was describing his economic policies; he has suggested shortening the work week and discouraging overtime to increase employment.” (Toronto Star Nov. 28)

A letter was distributed on the speech night of the convention, from members of Kennedy’s constituency. It read:
To know Gerard Kennedy is to leave In the months since the by-election, there has grown to be a significant discontent with Gerard’s presence in the riding.”
He basically faced much the same criticisms that Ignatieff faced from his riding association, as a parachute candidate with little experience and jealously inducing star power.

Dalton McGunity’s criticism:
“ ‘some people want to take this party to the left…’ To follow ‘some people’ would be making a mistake, he went on, because it might cost the Liberals the next election… ‘I’m a Liberal of conviction, not convenience.’ ” (Toronto Star Nov. 30)

Toronto Sun Editorial:
Kennedy is “… a lefty who really hasn’t done much other than give away food.”

His Convention Speech:

Gerard Kennedy made an impassioned plea to Liberals last night to return to their roots.

In a speech and video that evoked the ideals of Pierre Trudeau, Kennedy asked Liberal delegates to move to the left because it is both morally correct and politically astute.

“We have never been elected as a conservative-Liberal party and we will never out-conservative the Conservatives. That approach has never worked in the past.

“We must not forget to stand for something, forget to be Liberals.”

Prosperity, he said, “is linked to a health care system that is not only part of our infrastructure, part of our competitive advantage, but probably the thing we can be proudest of.” (Toronto Star Nov. 30)

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Throne Speech: Whither the First Nations?

Despite growing civil conflict in South-Central Ontario (never mind poverty unknown in the rest of this country), Aboriginal people garnered approximately one sentence in the throne speech. It is as follows:

“ …[we] will seek to improve opportunity for all Canadians, including Aboriginal Peoples and new immigrants.”

I am wholly unsurprised by the Tory tendency to abandon these issues; I understood what this party was before it was elected. What is astonishing to me is their inability or unwillingness even just to toss out empty platitudes.

Harper, Prentice et al have made no secret of their disinterest in the “expensive” promises made by our government to First Nations communities. First Nations leaders have reacted with little surprise – not exactly the first instance of failing to honour promises. But this is simply unacceptable – at least something must be offered in the short term to indicate good will. That something cannot be self-government accountability (not bad legislation, but it is offensive and illogical to prioritize it). So I humbly submit one promise to be met in the first budget: Residential Schools compensation, coupled with a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. This is not the $5 billion commitment made at Kelowna. It is a relatively minor expenditure, but one that will have a fundamental impact.

The importance and effectiveness of this fairly simple legislation will be developed in future posts.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Grits Should Be Wary Of Harper's "Law and Order"

To mark Parliament’s reconvention, Stephen Harper has been banging his chest in front of the Canadian Professional Police Association. His “law and order” platform is perceived as an uncontroversial one. But he has sent early overtures that suggests otherwise.

First, he seeks to illustrate just how serious the problem has become – “These incidents appear no longer limited to supposedly bad neighbourhoods!… Clearly, my friends, this cannot go on.” I would have thought that one who is truly tough on crime would be tough on it everywhere (even poor neighbourhoods). But nevertheless…

The crux of Harper’s “law and order” platform is a major increase in the number and length of mandatory minimum sentences. This is best understood in the context of three basic Conservative fallacies. They are as follows:

a) Judges are all mad, godless liberals who intend to rend the moral fabric of the nation.

b) The fathers of modern liberal democracy got the “division of powers, checks and balances”
thing all wrong – party politicians are the beginning and end of governance. The judiciary
is only a detriment.

c) Justice is retroactive. “Order” begins once someone has fired the shots and been
apprehended. “Order” is a punitive act, rather than a preventative one.

Wrong on three accounts. And that’s not where the problems with mandatory minimum sentences end. One needs only consult the experiences of others for the practical failings.
- Mandatory Minimums demolish our judicial budget. They are not a cost effective way of maintaining order. This is from a US RAND study:

Figure 1--Cost-Effectiveness of Alternative Cocaine Control Strategies
Those bars show the results of spending a million dollars
[1] on additional enforcement against a representative sample of drug dealers. As shown by the first bar, if that money were used to extend to federal mandatory minimum lengths the sentences of dealers who would have been arrested anyway, U.S. cocaine consumption would be reduced by almost 13 kilograms.[2] If, however, the money were used to arrest, confiscate the assets of, prosecute, and incarcerate more dealers (for prison terms of conventional length), cocaine consumption would be reduced by over 27 kilograms. As a point of comparison, spending the million dollars to treat heavy users would reduce cocaine consumption by a little over 100 kilograms (rightmost bar).

This deals with drug crime, yes, but in place of “treatment of heavy users” read prevention through social programming. The results are very much applicable.

- Mandatory minimums often fail to act as a deterrent. This is from a study by Thomas Gabor at the University of Ottawa:

"Perhaps most disconcerting for proponents of firearm sentence enhancements was a study interviewing robbers in Western Australia. That study revealed that the majority of robbers who had used guns indicated they would continue to do so despite their awareness of sentence enhancements and concern about the consequences of repeating their offences.

… if an individual is prepared to commit a robbery – a crime carrying a maximum sentence of imprisonment for life – will he now be deterred by a four-year minimum penalty, assuming that it is usually imposed? Even if he is deterred from using a gun (a questionable assumption given some Australian research), he may substitute another weapon in the commission of the same offence."

- Mandatory minimums are incredibly inflexible, and they leave judges unable to react to individual circumstances. As such, they are disproportionately detrimental to minorities that are more likely to come in conflict with the law. Already in this country Aboriginal people and urban African-Canadians, are many times more likely to face arrest. The Aboriginal people of Australia, especially the Northern Territory, have felt the specific impact of mandatory minimums. Now, after the suicide of a 15 year old Aboriginal boy in prison for a month after stealing pencils and stationary, after a 21 year old Aboriginal man was sentenced to a year in jail for stealing $23 worth of biscuits, there is tremendous public pressure to repeal the mandatory minimums.

I think Irwin Cotler’s approach to mandatory minimums (philosophical opposition, a cautious case-by-case approach) is the right one. I don’t think that the Conservative “law and order” platform is one that we can easily jump on board with.

Trudeau offers advice to the Liberal Opposition

As we embark on a task from which we have been estranged for some time, Pierre Elliott Trudeau offers his notion of an effective opposition:

"I do think… that it is now more important than ever for the Opposition to present realistic alternatives, especially on fundamental questions. I don’t think that at this sophisticated stage of our democracy people conceive of the Opposition as merely a tool with which to find scandals in the ranks of the government or to level criticism or jibes at specific actions. I think the Opposition will more and more be called upon to suggest alternatives, which means spelling out their own policy rather than merely attacking [the government’s].

The Canadian public is participation in the discussion of many of the major issues. Academics are participating; editorial writers, newspapers, and the magazines are arguing for certain courses of action, and, I think, more and more the Opposition will also have to state its priorities and its solutions…"

The Tory caucus is doubtlessly pledging to itself that it will navigate around the mistakes of the Liberal governments of the past 12 years. We should learn from the mistakes that the Tories made and remade on the other side of the floor. I expect this to be a sophisticated, logical, ambitious, and practical opposition.

Vive la resistance.